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Maritimes population growing at its fastest pace since the mid 1970s

March 3, 2022, 2:00 p.m. (EST)
Confederation Bridge linking New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island.

“Go West” was the cry at the beginning of the 20th century. From 2016 to 2021, the call may very well have been “Go East” to the Maritimes.

What a difference five years make. The last time we took the pulse of the nation, New Brunswick’s population was declining and Nova Scotia’s barely rising. Prince Edward Island led the Maritimes with 1.9% population growth in the five years leading up to the 2016 Census, less than half the national pace of 5.0%.

But five years and one pandemic later, Prince Edward Island led the provinces with its population rising 8.0%, the fastest pace of growth on record for the province.

Nova Scotia’s population grew by 5.0%, just below the national average and the fastest pace of growth in the province since the 1976 Census. The influx of immigrants from around the world and migrants from other parts of Canada pushed Nova Scotia’s population past the one million mark for the first time ever in 2022.

New Brunswick’s population (+3.8%) also grew at its fastest pace since the 1976 Census.

What’s drawing Canadians to the Maritimes?

First, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island welcomed a record number of immigrants from 2016 to 2021, with the vast majority arriving prior to the pandemic. Although approximately one-third to one-half of those who immigrate to the Maritimes move to another province within five years of arrival, higher levels of immigration were still mainly responsible for the rebound in population growth since 2016.

The immigrants who choose to stay are putting down roots. Recent data also show that a larger share of immigrants purchased properties in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick in 2018, compared with their overall share of the population. For example, immigrants in Nova Scotia accounted for 10.1% of buyers, while representing 6.1% of the total population. In New Brunswick, 8.4% of home buyers were immigrants, compared with 4.6% of the total population.

Second, for the first time since the 1981 to 1986 intercensal period, more people moved to the Maritimes from other parts of Canada (134,841) than moved away (98,086). The positive influx of people into these provinces from elsewhere in Canada started prior to the pandemic but has intensified thereafter. This change may be partly related to the increased possibility of working from home, combined with larger economic disruptions in other parts of Canada and the lower costs of housing in the Maritimes.

For example, our data show that the price-to-income ratio for a home in British Columbia (5.4) was over double that in Nova Scotia (2.0) and New Brunswick (1.8) in 2018. In other words, you would need to earn over twice as much a year to buy a home in British Columbia than you would to buy a similar sized home in New Brunswick or Nova Scotia.

The gap was even more pronounced in larger urban centres. In British Columbia, properties sold in the Vancouver census metropolitan area (CMA) had the highest median price-to-income ratio in the province (7.4). In Nova Scotia, the Halifax CMA had a median price-to-income ratio of 2.7, while in Moncton (2.2) and Saint John (2.0) the ratio was over three times lower compared with Vancouver.

However, home prices in the Maritimes are rising. According to January 2022 new housing price data, the cost of a new home has risen by 10.8% year over year in Saint John, Fredericton and Moncton. New home prices are also up in Charlottetown (+8.6%) and Halifax (+7.0%) year over year.

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